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August 4, 2009

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Zhuo Lin: The driving force behind a revolutionary partnership

IN an unexceptional courtyard on the street behind Jingshan Hill in central Beijing, two Chinese pines stand side by side.

They mark the residence of Zhuo Lin, widow of China's late leader Deng Xiaoping. Last Wednesday, she died, aged 93.

Deng was also 93 when he died 12 years ago.

To complete the final trip with her beloved husband, Zhuo chose to have her ashes scattered at sea as were her husband's.

Born in southwestern China's Yunnan Province, she joined the Communist Party of China in 1938 and was a former consultant of the Central Military Commission General Office.

She met Deng in the revolutionary shrine Yan'an in Shaanxi Province in 1939 and had accompanied him throughout his extraordinary life, from the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) to his dark days of repression in the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).

Deng Xianqun, Deng Xiaoping's younger sister, recalled how Deng and Zhuo used to have a tacit understanding between each other.

"My big brother didn't love talking, but my sister-in-law was just the opposite," she said.

According to their children, Zhuo had taken care of all the details of Deng's life, including what to wear and even how many sleeping pills he should take.

In 1966, when the political storms swept Deng from power as China's Vice Premier, Zhuo was bewildered, wondering what had happened exactly and what the future would hold.

But she chose to trust her husband and stay with him.

Wishes fulfilled

"I've been with him for so long that I'm certain he's an upright man," she told their daughter, Deng Nan.

In 1969, Deng was exiled to Jiangxi Province to work on farms.

Deng Lin, their eldest daughter, said Zhuo often spoke of the days in Jiangxi when they dug the land, pulled weeds and spread manure.

"Mother mostly did easy work, like cooking, as she was not very healthy," Deng Lin said.

In February, 1997, Deng Xiaoping died.

Later that year, Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty from the United Kingdom. However, for the leader who negotiated the city's handover, his wish of "setting foot on Hong Kong as our own land" never came true.

The then-81-year-old Zhuo ventured to Hong Kong for him.

Dressed in the new clothes their children made for her specially for the trip, Zhuo witnessed the historic ceremony.

Deng Rong, their youngest daughter, said: "My mother was so excited. She knew she was making the trip for my father."

On the eve of the ceremony, Zhuo stayed up all night.

"She said our father would be happy to know that she had fulfilled his wish," Deng Rong recalled.

Two years later, on December 20, 1999, Zhuo realized another wish of Deng's when she witnessed the return of Macau, a former Portuguese colony.

"My father and mother did not just share a family, they shared political ideals and life pursuits," Deng Rong said.

In Deng Xiaoping's former office, a green-shaded desk lamp witnessed how Zhuo had always loved family and friends.

Under this lamp Zhuo wrote math exercises for Deng Nan, who loved solving problems, but had to borrow them from her teacher. In days of impoverishment, this was the only way to get the exercises as they were not available on the market.

It was under this lamp that Zhuo knitted sweaters and woollen underwear for the children, and supervised her son as he practiced writing Chinese characters.

"Our mother always thought her main job was to take good care of the family and not let us distract our father," Deng Lin said.

Besides their own five children, Zhuo looked after her elder sister's children, and Deng's younger sister and her children, who all lived under Deng's roof.

"Our mother's influence on us was unconscious," Deng Rong said. "Not only in the way we thought, but in choosing the paths of our lives."

The couple gave generously.

In 1992, when the China Youth Development Foundation campaigned for the charitable Project Hope, "an old Communist Party member" donated 5,000 yuan (US$732). The "Party member" was later confirmed to be Deng Xiaoping and his wife, Zhuo Lin.

"Mother raised the idea first," Deng Nan said. "She was also the one who took care of it."

Zhuo's donations to charity never stopped, even after Deng's death.

On May 15, 2008, three days after the earthquake that devastated southwestern China's Sichuan and neighboring provinces, the Red Cross Society of China received a donation of 100,000 yuan from Zhuo.

She also asked her children to make donations.

In her last days, she urged the children to make her funeral simple.

She also asked to donate her cornea.

Last Wednesday, her children set up the room she used to live in as a memorial, where friends and relatives could pay their respects. A happy Zhuo looked over the room from a photograph.

"All through her life, she loved smiling," Deng Rong said.


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